Visiting Northern Ireland Guide
Belfast and the Causeway Coast have been named as the top travel destinations for 2018 by Lonely Planet.
If you are visiting Northern Ireland, it is ideal to plan ahead and book your accommodation & transport options. Renting a car offers you flexibility and convenience with travel planning for all destinations in Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Do check in with companies whether they charge for car rental northern Ireland driving from Ireland to Northern Ireland. For a complete list of how to rent a car in Ireland, visit here and free checklist is available for download.
Planning a trip to Northern Ireland
Scabo Tower in Northern Ireland
Planning to visit Northern Ireland? It's possible to rent a car to Northern Ireland; you will need to let the car rental company know beforehand. Newry is 59 miles away from Dublin Airport and takes approximely an hour to drive.
Having a clear idea of where and what kind of trip you want to do, this will help to plan destinations and activities that Northern Ireland offers.
Having your accommodation booked prior arriving is ideal as this can plan your itinerary. You can find recommendations on accommodation in Northern Ireland.
What is the best way to get to Ireland?
Republic of Ireland has main international airports in Dublin Airport, Cork Airport, Shannon Airport, Kerry Airport and Knock Airport. Belfast also has city and International airport. Sligo is shy of 40km away from Northern Ireland's border
If you are planning to drive the Causeway Coastal route and visiting the main attractions; Giant’s Causeway, Carrick a rede bridge and places outside main cities, hiring Northern Ireland car rental is advised by TripAdvisor.
Where to rent a car?
Irish Car Rentals provides car & van rental servuce from 15 locations in Republic of Ireland.
Irish Car Rentals is a registered member of Car Rental Council of Ireland; renting from a company listed under CCI means you are using a company committed to providing a high quality car rental service.
Causeway Coastal route in Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland offers a scenic coastal drives and adventures to be done. Self drive tours can easily be done, jump in your car and drive north. The Causeway Coastal Route offers an scenic tour of the Northern Ireland coast, travelling from Belfast to Lough Foyle, stretching more than 190 km and taking in most of the major sites in Northern Ireland.
If you want to use your phone as a road map of Northern Ireland, we recommend using HERE app where you can download the map prior arriving. Their offline maps and offline navigation makes sure you always know your way regardless if you have a data connection or not. Search for places and find your way with GPS turn-by-turn voice guidance and directions for every transit mode anywhere, no internet needed and completely free.
Scenic driving routesOne of the best ways to explore Ireland is by taking road trips, we have complied a couple Ireland's Great Drives to get you started!
- Sky Road - "The Capital of Connemara", County Galway
- Slea Head - Drive on the Dingle Peninsula, County Kerry
- Healy Pass - The Healy Pass is a winding mountain road between Adrigole in Co. Cork and Lauragh in Co. Kerry
- Ring of Beara - Located on the Beara Peninsula, Co. Kerry and Co. Cork with 137km driving route
- Lough Inagh Drive - 165 km of the Galway coast
- Wild Atlantic Way - Ireland’s first and only 2,500km driving route, which will stretch along the Atlantic coast from Donegal to West Cork.
What to visit in Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site tourist attraction with over a million visitors each ye
ar and offers fantastic panoramic views.
It’s comprised of a tightly packed array of 60-milliion-year-old basalt columns that formed during a volcanic eruption. The columns begin at the base of a cliff and stretch out into the sea. Each one is roughly a foot across, and their intricate layout give a distinct manmade appearance.
The legend behind Giant’s Causeway is a light-hearted celebration of brains over brawn. According to the story, an Irish giant named Fionn mac Cumhail was challenged to a battle by Benandonner, a Scottish giant who lived across the North Channel. Fionn was no coward, and he built the causeway so that the two giants could meet and battle it out.
Admission to the actual landmark is free, though visitors are charged to park and to access the exhibits in the visitor’s centre. View up-to-date prices through the National Trust website.
Heading north from Northern Ireland’s capital city Belfast, the Causeway Coastal Route leads you on an easy to navigate odyssey along the Antrim and Londonderry coastline, calling at picture postcard villages and glens with gushing waterfalls and gurgling streams.
Crossing over to Carrick-A-Rede island is a rite of passage for anyone visiting the Glens of Antrim. A 20-metre-wide chasm separates the glen from the chasm, and salmon fishermen need to cross in order to check their nets. The original bridge dared fishermen to cross with a single rope handrail, though the model hangs here today has two ropes and is a fair bit more stable.
Even so, crossing is still a hair-raising experience. The Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge is open during the day so long as weather conditions permit. Each year, nearly a quarter of a million people take the challenge – and not out of necessity! It’s a thrilling way to experience this dramatic coastline.
Take a closer look at the Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge on Facebook.
Glens of Antrium
It’s not a self-contained attraction, and you couldn’t buy a ticket of admission if you wanted to, but the Glens of Antrim are still one of the most spectacular sights in Northern Ireland. Drive it, walk it or simply stand in awe of it. There’s as much to see and explore here as you have time to commit.
The glens are located north and north-west of Belfast between the coastal towns of Larne and Portstewart. Along the way, nine verdant glens (valleys) ripple across the coast and make for spectacular scenery. Clear your schedule and hire a car if you want to enjoy this unadulterated Irish countryside at its finest.
These hills and valleys were cut out by glaciers during the last Ice Age. Up until the mid-19th century, a lack of roads kept the region intensely isolated. Even today, the Glens of Antrim are a bastion of Celtic culture. There are nine of them in all – each named for a local legend. They have names like “Glen of the Slaughter” or “Ploughmans’ Glen”, though in most cases the context in which the glen was named has been lost.
The Dark Hedges are the most photographed spot in Ireland. Game of Thrones has filmed a scene at this Dark Hedges beautiful road. The Dark Hedges is a quiet road near the town of Ballymoney in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. Lined with beech trees twisted branches forming an arch over the road it makes for impressive photographs indeed.
More than 100 years ago, shipwrights Harland and Wolff designed and built the world’s most infamous, utterly ill-fated ocean liner on this very land. After decades of decline, an ambitious restoration project is underway, and it carries a whopping €1 billion price tag. This is the Titanic Quarter, and it’s one of Belfast’s truly up-and-coming districts.
The development is wide-ranging and will see the unveiling business parks, commercial centres and residential complexes. But from a visitor’s perspective, the showpiece is the Titanic Belfast – an imposing structure that required a single pour of 4,300 cubic metres of concrete for its foundations alone. Of course, this district is no stranger to construction projects of gargantuan proportions.
Inside the Titanic Experience museum Even the building that houses the Titanic Experience is reminiscent of an ocean liner, with its curvilinear façade and metallic shimmering exterior. It’s an architectural icon in its own right, and after opening in 2012 it drew more than 800,000 visitors in its first year alone. Inside are nine interconnected galleries, flush with advanced multimedia exhibits that follow the Titanic through its design, construction and first-and-only voyage. The exhibits never allow you to forget the sheer scale of the S.S. Titanic and the challenges of building her with early 20th-century technology. However, the real underlying focus is on the experience of the people involved – the shipbuilders, deck hands, passengers and family members who were in one way or another tied to her fate.
Synonymous with the republican resistance of the 1980s, Falls Road has become an icon of political dissent in Northern Ireland. Made famous through intense political conflict that originally made this a dangerous place, the Falls Road of the 21st century has evolved into something between a living memorial and outright tourist attraction.
Falls Road background In the latter half of the 20th century, conflict on and around Falls Road centred on conflict between Catholic republicans (who favoured a unified Irish state) and Protestant unionists (who supported UK inclusion). Shankill Road, to the northeast, was mostly Protestant, and an imposing wall called the ‘Peace Line’ divided the two.
A hunger strike in Maze Prison led to the starvation and death of ten prisoners, including Bobby Sands, who had been elected to parliament a month earlier. The first mural to emerge on Falls Road was of Sands in 1981. Other murals that followed demonstrated support for the republican movement and Irish nationalism.
Visitors will notice a few repeated motifs across the murals. The phoenix rising from the ashes is popular, and it stands for Ireland emerging from the flames of the 1916 Easter Rising. Other murals honour those who died during the decades-long conflict. Murals that emerged later demanded protection for nationalists and police reform.
No doubt, the Falls Road Republican Murals have landed on tourists’ radars. However, their political messages are still poignant and, in some cases, very relevant to those in the community. With that in mind, a heavy dose of respect is in order when viewing and photographing the murals.
Old Bushmills Distillery
The world’s oldest distillery – at least the oldest legal one – was founded in the early 17th century on a charter from King James I. However, records indicate that it was operating hundreds of years before that. This is an iconic Northern Ireland attraction with no shortage of international devotees.
This is the only distillery in Northern Ireland to make triple-distilled malt whiskey. It’s internationally famous for its five award-winning whiskeys: Bushmills, Black Bush and the Bushmills 10- 15- and 21-year malts. Of course, these enjoy top billing during a tour of the distillery.
Distillery tours Visitors are invited to join formal tours of the Old Bushmills Distillery. It’s located on Main Street of the town of Bushmills in County Antrim. With that in mind, it’s best visited in conjunction with the Giant’s Causeway.
Northern Ireland’s Islands
Another of Northern Ireland attraction, White Island is located off the eastern shore of Lower Lough Erne. Visitors can access the island by ferry from Castle Archdale’s marina, which is located near Irvinestown. White Island is not inhabited now, but it used to be. The ruins of the communities that once lived here are now its main attraction.
An ancient monastic settlement was located on the shores of White Island. The ruins of this settlement are scant, though a great deal remains from a church that was built on top of it. However, the eight stone carvings (seven figures and one head) are believed to date to the original settlement. They were hewn from quartzite and depict clergy in long tunics. They may date as far back as the 9th century.
The most prominent feature of the church is a Romanesque doorway, which has been reconstructed. However, the stone carvings steal the show. They were used as building stones in the church that proceeded them. This church was probably built of wood, but the stones appear to have supported a pulpit or preaching chair. The story behind the carvings has been lost, but many suppose that it tells a tale from the life of St Patrick. Regardless of the story they convey, the expressions on the faces of the carvings are delightfully ghoulish.
Rathlin can be reached by ferry from Ballycastle and is the only inhabited island offshore of Northern Ireland. This is a crowded island, though that has nothing to do with the less than 100 people that live here. Hundreds of seals and roughly 100,000 seabirds make Rathlin their home. In other words, bring your binoculars.
For a high-flying view of the island, visit RSPB West Light Viewpoint. During the summer, visitors can take a minibus here from the harbour. ‘RSPB’ stands for Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, so it comes as no surprise that seabirds are a leading attraction at the viewpoint. Kittiwakes, puffins, razorbills and common guillemots can be spotted on the sea stacks just offshore.
The island is also perfect for walks. You can join organised, guided walks or strike out on your own. The best scenery is atop the dramatic coastal cliffs, where the heather bursts into vibrant yellows and purples in late summer. Opposite this, orchids bloom in the spring.